The Comfort of the Metropole

Agnes Pelton

“…artificial intelligence is a registry of power.”
Kate Crawford (The Atlas of AI)

“Cornell’s art assumes a romantic universe in which inexplicable events can and must occur. Minimal art, notwithstanding the cartesian disclaimers of some of the artists, draws its being from this charged, romantic atmosphere, which permits an anonymous slab or cube to force us to believe in it as something inevitable.”
John Ashbery (Reported Sightings)

“Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
and in the lowest deep a lower deep…”

John Milton (Paradise Lost, IV)

“It is not true that the human mind has undergone no development since the earliest times and that, in contrast to the advances in science and technology, it is the same today as it was at the beginning of history.”
Sigmund Freud (The Future of an Illusion)

“There is a depressing willingness on the part of academics to serve empire and the corporate world with remarkable flexibility.”
Yarden Katz (Artificial Whiteness)

“In the colonies the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”
Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth)

One of the most pernicious ideas today is that progress is tied to computers and digital technology altogether, and this idea is clung to with inexorable tenacity. And alongside this has been an evolution of various models of the ‘self’. Viewed with equal intractable insistence.

“In 1980 Allen Newell, then president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, stated that AI’s mission to grasp “the nature of intelligence” has “unsettling aspects,” which unite AI with the controversial wings of psychology and biology. Even practitioners who claim to only be interested in solving practical problems cannot escape the fact that appeals to AI are invariably interpreted as, or against, models of the self.”
Yarden Katz (Ibid)

Katz then adds “These different epistemic styles come with different models of self. Practitioners in the 1970s, for instance, offered visions of the self as a symbol processing machine, rich with handcrafted internal structure. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, by contrast, the prevailing “self” started looking more like a statistical inference engine driven by sensory data.”

But human as statistical inference engines is a deeply pathological belief. And what emerged (it was already there, really, since the Industrial Revolution) more distinctly over the last twenty years is this idea of technological neutrality. The so called ‘view from nowhere’. But again, per Katz, that *nowhere* turned out to be a somewhere, and a somewhere that was privileged and white.

Lyubov Popova

Certainly the cultural (primarily literary) imprint of colonialism and eugenics is increasingly apparent, the privileged POV has taken refuge, in a sense, behind the facade of computational neutrality (and all technology, really, but most nakedly in the digital disciplines). The white supremacy revealed in literature and visual arts, it should be noted, has been actively appropriated by (mostly) academia and refashioned as part of one of several regressive and reactionary movements (see Cancel Culture etc). As a side bar observation, Hollywood has eagerly taken to prescriptive histories that situate black or brown characters in positions they never were allowed to actually occupy in the name of preventing bruised feelings (or whatever) but actually serving to mystify the real horrors of colonial and racist histories.

“AI is a technology that serves whiteness by advancing its imperial and capitalist projects. In the hands of a flexible expert industry, AI has been used to advance neoliberal visions of society, to sanction projects of dispossession and land accumulation, and to naturalize mass incarceration and surveillance. { } AI performs this service by mimicking the structure of whiteness as an ideology. It is isomorphic to whiteness in being nebulous and hollow, with its shifting character guided by imperial and capitalist aims. In computer parlance, AI’s nebulosity is a feature, not a bug. { } And like whiteness, it aspires to be totalizing: to say something definitive about the limits and potential of human life based on racialized and gendered models of the self that are falsely presented as universal.”
Yarden Katz (Ibid)

Kenneth Noland

Allow me here to quote from Jonathan Beller’s The Message is Murder, where in turn quotes from Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer: “…the optical devices used in the nineteenth century were not invented in cultural vacuums,” but were, rather, “[p]remised on ‘conceptual structures’ that reflect ‘points of intersections where philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic discourses overlap with mechanical techniques, institutional requirements, and socio-economic forces.’ [P]hotographic equipment also presupposes an ideal viewer—an observing subject—whose cultural privileges can be inferred from (and, consequently conferred by) the ways in which a camera makes the world visible to human perception.”

In one sense, the digital technologies mirror the evolution and the discovery of optical devices (primarily the camera). The military origin story of the computer and the internet has been gone over a good deal. And Katz makes a key observation when he speaks of ‘whiteness’ as, at root, a nebulous concept. And that this nebulosity becomes a tool for the AI expert to expand functions of control under of cover of its very opposite. And this because of actual dissent and social justice movements. Technological experts intuitively react to a perceived threat. When a rebranded AI surfaced via Silicon Valley in the 2010s, it was partly in response to the public backlash against mass surveillance and mass incarceration. (how quaint that seems now). AI was suddenly a tool for progressive projects and visions of liberation for a techno prison house. And remember, too, the claims of Russian interference in the elections of 2016, claims that presented Google and Microsoft et al in a negative light. Hence, the rapid industry response to counter these negative associations.

“While psychoanalysis has been busy congratulating itself for having rejected its earlier incarnations in favor of humanistic appeals to empathy, co-construction and maternalism, cognitive science has given rise to an international campaign dedicated to enforcing a phallic image of mind as comparable to the computer, and of thinking as identical to digital computation. This too is a metaphor, yet one that now governs a global industry capable of authorizing massive economic investments in itself in the name of science and of progress.”
Jared Russell (Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction)

Steina & Woody Vasulka

“The point I want to emphasize here, that what is encoded in the basic structure of the photographic apparatus feeds back into the social to re-organize and reproduce it…”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

In algorithmic logic, in what I wrote last time about the ontology of code, too, is anticipated by photography. Today, the digital technologies, AI, are extractive projects. Mineral (rare earth minerals) mining and data mining, and energy consumption and cheap labor form the calculus of capitalist AI.

“…’Algorithms are essentially thoughtless,’ he {Eric Meyer} wrote. ‘They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs’.”
Mary L. Gray (Ghost Work)

I want, though, to focus on two things here, one is what Katz (and Beller) find in AI, which is a capitalist white supremacist project, and legacy. And the other is the psychoanalytic aspect of how our thought is shaped, how our *self* is manufactured. And in another sense, these two issues overlap to the point where perhaps its pointless to try and separate them. With the current U.S./NATO incitement with Russia, it has caused me to reflect on US history since optical inventions blossomed in the 19th century. And to reflect on its intersection with ideas of progress, of technological solutions, too. From WW1, the first war with planes, to Hiroshima, the bombing of north Korea where not a single building of more than a story in the ENTIRE COUNTRY was left standing, of the School for the Americas and its graduates who worked for death squads in Central America, and South America, for butchers like Rioss Mont, or Batista, or Alfredo Stroessner, or Somoza or Pinochet. Of Papa Doc and the Ton Ton Macoute, supported by the US and western capital. Or the Clinton supported Cedras Junta in Haiti, or the murder of Lumumba, and the installing of Mobutu Sese Siko, or Hissene Habre in Chad, or Kagame, all of these with White US approval and support. I obviously could go on (and on and on and on) but the point here is that a kind of economic cynical pragmatism drove the West. An Imperialist drive bound up with, the technologies of death. The murder of Qadaffi, or the arrest and de-facto murder of Milosevic, and the Israeli aggression on Palestinians. Or the British in Kenya and on and on. Technological refinement keeping pace throughout. Until today, the refinement of digitality is carried forward by NGOs, the World Bank, the IMF and Wall Street.

Raphael (The Alba Madonna, detail. 1511)

“Labor is also a story about time. Coordinating the actions of humans with the repetitive motions of robots and line machinery has always involved a controlling of bodies in space and time. From the invention of the stopwatch to Google’s TrueTime, the process of time coordination is at the heart of workplace management. AI technologies both require and create the conditions for ever “more granular and precise mechanisms of temporal management..{ } …on the role of data. All publicly accessible digital material—including data that is personal or potentially damaging—is open to being harvested for training datasets that are used to produce AI models. There are gigantic datasets full of people’s selfies, of hand gestures, of people driving cars, of babies crying, of newsgroup conversations from the 1990s, all to improve algorithms that perform such functions as facial recognition, language prediction, and object detection. When these collections of data are no longer seen as people’s personal material but merely as infrastructure, the specific meaning or context of an image or a video is assumed to be irrelevant.”
Kate Crawford (The Atlas of AI)

There are philosophical questions about scale, here, too. That images grow in number to the point they have content that has no meaning. They are only more tools. But it is all part of a psychic reconfiguration of self. For the priests of AI, today is a transitional epoch. There are still pockets (well, entire continents, but who’s counting) of resistance to this transformation, but the expectation for this global ruling class is that they will soon be subdued and/or eliminated. That is the great thing about war after all. And the role of medicine, definitions of health, are changing. Vaccines that are not vaccines and do not stop transmission of the targeted disease, are part of this evolution of a technology, of *health*. And one can see, I would hope by this point, that the Covid response by world governments had precious little to do with any definition of *health*.

“The rapid development in little more than a decade of a vast array of computer graphics techniques is part of a sweeping reconfiguration of relations between an observing subject and modes of representation that effectively nullifies most of the culturally established meanings of the terms observer and representation.”
Jonathan Crary (Techniques of the Observer)

What Crary calls a mutation of visuality touches on the topic I am trying to describe; the reshaping of subjectivity. There is a tendency (a trap) that all thinkers on technology and AI seem to fall prey to, and I include myself, and that is to overvalue the changes of the mind. Or to ask the wrong questions.

Belkis Ayon

“…the related problem of when, and because of what events, there was a rupture with Renaissance, or classical, models of vision and of the observer. How and where one situates such a break has an enormous bearing on the intelligibility of visuality within nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernity. Most existing answers to this
question suffer from an exclusive preoccupation with problems of visual representation; the break with classical models of vision in the early nineteenth century was far more than simply a shift in the appearance of images and art works, or in systems of representational conventions. Instead, it was inseparable from a massive reorganization of knowledge and social practices that modified in myriad ways the productive, cognitive, and desiring capacities of the human subject.”

Jonathan Crary (Ibid)

The psychoanalytic is itself historically mediated. And this explains, partly, why attempts at psychoanlysing, say, Dante, feel so unsatisfying. Psychoanalysis itself was inscribed with the social changes occurring in the late 19th century. The super-ego, as such, was probably non-existent in antiquity (or almost, as such). Harold Bloom titled his book on Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human. Shakespeare was the front edge of a transition to ‘modernism’. It was at least a hundred years away yet, but he anticipated it. And some of the most revealing of Shakespeare’s societal intuition is found in his lesser work — the opening scene of Two Noble Kinsmen (a play of which Shakespeare probably only wrote small part) is disquieting because of the elasticity of the language and meaning. A paratactic experiment that may well have been entirely unconscious. This was his last writing and he was expelling a final frustrated expression with the impossible theatre. A personal exercise in anti poetics perhaps. We may not yet know how to hear that language.

“If the making of whiteness and blackness is mediated by the dynamics of photography, then the reverse is also true: the making of photography is mediated by the dynamics of whiteness and blackness. Photography does not evolve in a vacuum; it is, to borrow from Stephen Heath, a dispositif, the social and technical as photography. Thus we may expect to find that “race relations”—that is to say, forms of racism—may be not only at the heart of “the meaning of sight” but inscribed in the technological platforms that enable sight and, therefore, in ‘photography itself.'”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Andre Cypriano, photography.

Now, it is important, I think, to look at what Crary posits in his analysis of 19th century visual change. And it touches on the assumptions behind some of the language. ‘Realism’ for example. The idea being perspectival space, the developments around that during the Renaissance, continued on through the end of the 19th century, and really well into the 20th. But to look at the Raphael painting above (a detail of it). I love this painting, and I think the colors, the blues in particular, are singular. But its a decidedly NOT realistic painting. The more one sits with it, the less realistic it becomes. But this raises the question of what any of us means by ‘realism’.

“When examined closely, however, the celebrated “rupture” of modernism is considerably more restricted in its cultural and social impact than the fanfare surrounding it usually suggests. The alleged perceptual revolution of
advanced art in the late nineteenth century, according to its proponents, is an event whose effects occur outside the most dominant and pervasive modes of seeing. Thus, following the logic of this general argument, it is actually a rupture that occurs on the margins of a vast hegemonic organization of the visual that becomes increasingly powerful in the twentieth century, with the diffusion and proliferation of photography, film, and television. In a sense, however, the myth of modernist rupture depends fundamentally on the binary model of realism vs.experimentation. That is, the essential continuity of mimetic codes is a necessary condition for the affirmation of an avant-garde breakthrough.”

Jonathan Crary (Ibid)

The key behind this was a subject with a detached viewpoint. A subject who is the normative never changing viewer (or least not for four hundred years). And here one arrives at the intersection of positivism and scientific thought. Crary challenges the prevailing periodization of art, culture (and vision) and traces the more significant changes to the early years of the 19th century. With photography and modernism following that. And this is convincing if you look at the paintings of the 1870s or 1880s in Europe. The key for Crary is the ‘observing subject’.

Florence Miller Pierce

“Though obviously one who sees, an observer is more importantly one who sees within a prescribed set of possibilities, one who is embedded in a system of conventions and limitations. And by “conventions” I mean to suggest far more than representational practices. If it can be said there is an observer specific to the nineteenth century, or to any period, it is only as an effect of an irreducibly heterogeneous system of discursive, social, technological, and institutional relations. There is no observing subject prior to this continually shifting field.”
Jonathan Crary (Ibid)

So, per Crary, there was a rupture in the very early 19th century from the typical European observer of the 18th and 17th centuries (and I wonder if not the 16th, too). In short form, the early 19th century saw the invention of a variety of optical devices. Most were significantly improved over the next hundred years, but these devices represented an acute shift in how the world was viewed. Allow me one more quote from Crary;

“Clearly, this is to counter many influential accounts of the history of photography and cinema that are characterized by a latent or explicit technological determinism, in which an independent dynamic of mechanical invention, modification, and perfection imposes itself onto a social field, transforming it from the outside. On the contrary, technology is always a concomitant or subordinate part of other forces. For Gilles Deleuze, ‘A society is defined by its amalgamations, not by its tools… tools exist only in relation to the interminglings they make possible or that make them possible’.”

Frederick Judd Waugh (1894)

I would suggest that the digital age marks another rupture of visuality. And this contemporary rupture is more mediated by social trauma than even the early 19th century. And I suspect the mediation is of another register in many respects and operative via quite different social assemblages. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a suppression of subjectivity vis a vis realism. This changed with the early optical instruments as Crary argues such things as the stereoscope were reconstructing image from a subjective blueprint (as it were). In the 19th century the artist was seen as having a ‘different’ sort of vision, a non scientific vision. What is important here is that there emerged, in places, a logic of modernity, at the time, severed from ideas of progress. Crary quotes Gianni Vattimo..“modernity has precisely these “post-historical” features, in which the continual production of the new is what allows things to stay the same-“ Almost sounds like Adorno and Horkheimer there.

The eye adapted to bourgeois rationality. The ceaseless production of the same, marketed as new and dependent on a visual criteria of proof.

“In caste societies, feudal or archaic, cruel societies, the signs are limited in number, and are not widely diffused, each one functions with its full value as interdiction, each is a reciprocal obligation between
castes, clans, or persons.”

Jean Baudrillard (Simulations)

Emeka Okereke, photography (Nigeria).

One wonders here, as a sort of side bar, if societies of forced uniformity, whether certain communist countries or smaller military grouping, in which everyone wears the same ‘uniform’ does not paralyse the ‘sign’ — that there is a dialectic whereby the disappearance of difference (or class) also telescopes an unequivocally determined meaning for signs. Ok, end of side bar. (not to say the removal of class difference is not hugely important and overwhelmingly positive, but that it is not without tension).

Photography ushers in a culture of consumption and circulation. It is the locus of power and defines experience of the real. And here we circle back to Beller. For the early 19th century was one with a still active, if slowed, slave trade. But it was the beginning of the end for a trade lasting 350 years. The optical rupture of visuality occurred against three centuries of this crime.

Crary notes: “What must be emphasized, however, is that this new autonomy and abstraction of vision is not only a precondition for modernist painting in the later nineteenth century but also for forms of visual mass culture appearing much earlier.” Photography released visuality from the static camera obscura into a realm of visual mobility that mirrored social mobility (to some degree). And, per Foucault, there arose the technology of the individual. And with that, and the ascent of positivism and science, the normalizing of statistical definitions of behavior that were agreeable to the status quo. The disciplinary culture was now prevailing expression of class power.

“Emphasizing the malleability of the value-form is important for me because it reveals the continuity of AI work with other types of work, rather than sensationalizing its differences.”
Interview with James Steinhoff (Digi-Labor, 2021)

Ron Bladen

“Because there’s no way that the active engineering of discourse can at all be avoided here. Even the simplest filtering algorithms prioritizing information in people’s feeds will have massive effects at the aggregate level, and in the sort of societal order in which we find ourselves, where the manufacturing of consent is the basis of the economic and political processes as such, using these tools cannot possibly steer clear of circumscribing people’s choices for the purposes of social engineering.”
Johan Eddebo (The Nudge Matrix, 2022)

“…the hypothesis that two fundamental turning points can be observed in human culture since its inception. The first, around the middle of the second millennium BC, can be summed up under the heading ‘the invention of linear writing’; the second, the one we are currently experiencing, could be called ‘the invention of technical images’.”
Villem Flusser (Toward a Philosophy of Photography)

The contemporary rupture is perhaps a continuation of that which occurred in the early 19th century. But it is still a rupture. And of course there are other significant factors that are contributing to the contours of the subjectivity of this algorithmic regime under which most of the West now live. But however one wants to describe it, there is a cognitive restructuring going on, I believe. And it is hard not to find decline in many aspects of subjectivity today. In thinking. As Crary noted, this kind of idea is indefensibly general, and yet, probably necessary.

As semi side bar here. The image, and I mean photography and film, in specific examples, define the imaginary for entire generations. Brassai invented the Rive Gauche, and in part, Paris in its entirety. Films like Roman Holiday (1953, dr William Wyler, with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck) defined an imaginary Europe for post war Americans. La Dolce Vita (1960, dr. Frederico Fellini), too, could be added. Or just Ekberg emerging from the Trevi fountain in her strapless black evening dress. These images enclosed ideas of escape — and for Americans, the 50s became a place to escape from. For this was McCarthyism, but also a growing conformity and sexual repression layered over the entire culture. In that sense Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) looms as culturally significant in another way. Wilder’s film was the deconstruction of the American workplace. And the more cynical version of Mad Men. Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter, an anonymous drone in a corporate hive, became the expression of the Kafkaesque irrationality of fifties American white collar drudgery. The film has a remarkable sense of style, too. Lemmon’s button down white shirt and actually nicely tailored suit (and skinny tie) set a certain sartorial tone that was to have lasting effect. (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying 1967, should be noted as well, if only for the Joey Bishop deny deny deny scene).

Compare the Brassai photo posted here, with the photo by Brazilian Andre Cypriano. It is virtually the same photograph. That Cypriano instinctively reproduced Brassai is no knock on Cypriano, who is a terrific photographer, but rather suggests just how significant was Brassai. He really did create the emotional tone of Europe, and portrayed outsiders and the underclass without a hint of condescension.

Brassai, photography.

The point of this digression (its not really such a digression) is that imagination became linked to technically produced images, and to film images perhaps even more.

“The split in the life world between object and subject happened some two million years ago somewhere in East Africa. About forty thousand years ago, no doubt in a cave in southwestern Europe, the subject withdrew further into its subjectivity to get an overview of the objective circumstances in which it found itself…{ } And from this imaginative consciousness came the universe of traditional images, of symbolic content, the universe that would henceforth serve as a model for manipulating the environment (e.g., hunting bulls). Symbols that are linked to content in this way are called codes and can be deciphered by initiates. To be intersubjective (to be decoded by others), each image must rest on a code known to a community (initiates), which is the reason images are called “traditional” in this essay.”
Villem Flusser (Into the Universe of Technical Images)

This is likely not entirely right, but you get the idea. A retreat into subjectivity. The result was theatre, likely, and music (they have found stone flutes) and paintings. Frescos of a sort. But here an important point needs to be made; the symbols, or codes, needed a tradition to be formed. To pass on the codes. For the codes to have meaning. Those cave dwellers did not change much, from all accounts, for five thousand years. The paintings were painted over countless times. The initiates for the codes developed sub-codes, and sub sub codes. Let me quote Flusser from the same article….

“Yet it is a dangerous anachronism to regard these constant changes in the image code as a developmental process and to speak of a “history of images” (e.g., from the bull paintings at Lascaux to those of Mesopotamia and Egypt) or to suppose that such a history unfolds slowly in comparison to our own. For what makers of images set out to do was exactly not to be original and to inform society but rather to be as true as possible to previous images and to carry their tradition forward with as little noise as possible. “
Villem Flusser (Ibid)

The Apartment (dr. Billy Wilder, 1960).

How can one describe the subjective observer who stared at the walls in the caves at Lascoux?

“It is a shift signaled by the passage from the geometrical optics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to physiological optics, which dominated both scientific and philosophical discussion of vision in the nineteenth century.”
Jonathan Crary (Ibid)

There is something not fully explained here, though. And it is tradition. The Greeks inherited pagan tradition, but rationalized it. They interrogated the subjective. But the 19th century gave birth to the study of optics and the technical improvement for vision, from eyeglasses to microscopes. These studies shaped an idea of normal vision. And in other fields of medicine, normal became the goal of anatomical studies, etc. Meanwhile something was being lost, too. I mention the Greeks because they thought deeply about the nature of knowledge production. The optical advancements increasingly forgot tradition as having any relevance. Now, flash forward to the digital age…

“In short, “AI” signaled the continuation of centralized data collection, so that more aspects of life can be subject to quantifiable rule { } And the appeal to AI helps carry their governance by the numbers into new arenas. Science is one such arena. The long- standing effort to reorganize science as a neoliberal “marketplace of ideas” has paved the way for platform companies to intervene. In this vision of governance by the numbers, scientific projects, articles, data sets, scientists, and institutions would be ranked in real time through a slew of market signals or metrics— fostering the illusion that scientific truth is universally quantifiable.”
Yarden Katz (Ibid)

Not just an illusion, but a psychological disorder accompanies this. As Katz notes later; “For if supposedly superhuman AI systems can guide or replace scientists, then metrics that quantify “good” science will be needed— otherwise, what would AI systems “maximize”?” For all these AI proponents, it is clear that science is to be maximized (sic) and ranked, optimized and all by metrics that AI creates (well, that the owners of the platforms create). And these delusions of ‘super intelligent’ machines has bled into countless other fields. Education at the front of this growing pack. For most AI futurists, education is slowly losing relevance. Machines will think for you, if you only would allow implants to be put IN (sic) your brain. I would like to believe a lot of this stuff is just click bait and that no actually educated human thinks its anything but nonsense. But I fear I may be wrong.

The AI pitchmen sound very much like neo-liberal flunkies from all of the last forty years.

Casa del Peristilio, (1st century AD.)

“These capitalist visions rest on the idea that AI will provide an unmatched form of “slave” labor. It would supposedly “free” people from their own labor, if only we let it. Although experts tend to refer to the “slave” in generic terms, or link it in passing to slavery in antiquity, the slave metaphor is always racial and gendered— especially when invoked by white professionals in North America. The persistent and unselfconscious appeals to slavery highlight the whiteness of the AI expert industry, and the racial capitalism that animates experts’ visions.”
Yarden Katz (Ibid)

The unconscious use of racial metaphors is revealing. For nothing happens in a vacuum. Important, too, to remember that AI is bankrolled by asset managers like Blackstone and Vanguard. And that massive land grabs are part of their business model. Land grabs in the global south primarily. Capitalism is never green. Next to military intelligence, green capitalism is the worlds best oxymoron.

To understand that the second byproduct of capitalism, racism, is resurgent — as is fascism — one needs to look back at the invention of whiteness. Katz quotes Cedric Robinson, who coined the phrase, ‘invention of the negro’. And while this took place in cultural affairs, and (per Beller) in the very origins of the camera and photograph, it most perniciously took place in science. Racial science.

“With racism’s permeation of daily life, grandiose assaults on racism—highly public spectacles against exceptional behavior—miss the mark. Racism, as a function of extraordinary individuals conceals the structural dimension of a society that conceals itself from itself through making its noxious values so familiar and frequent that they cease to function as objects of observation and reflection; they, in short, become unreflective and so steeped in familiarity that they become invisible.”
Lewis Gordon (Fanon and the Crisis of European Man)

Gani Odutokun

The claims that AI will transform the world rest on several flawed premises. First is an idea of Universal Intelligence. And second (though really part of the first) is that AI will exceed human intelligence in the near future. There are massive biases embedded in all the tests cited in this literature. Tests that prove almost nothing, actually. (tradition again). But there is a deeper problem here, besides the white, masculine, militarist foundation of all AI, and that about the way humans think. What consciousness is.

And before that, to see how science eliminates history, class, race, and any idea of exploitation or oppression. Fanon described a patient with varicose veins appearing in his legs and that the cause was not spending 12 hours a day standing at a mind numbing job or lack of decent nutrition, but rather the thin walls of his veins. Insurance companies will not hold the company employing this man to any account (or very little).

AI, perhaps like all technology, certainly photography and film, create ways to NOT talk about history. Beller has a cogent few pages on Barthes ‘ seminal book Camera Lucida. And he cites Barthes’ mention of Richard Avedon’s portait of William Casby (Born a Slave). And that this aestheticizing of slavery’s history allows for slavery to recede again, after briefly being brought to our visual attention. I am reminded of a piece I wrote about on this blog early on, about Alfredo Jaar’s artwork The Eyes of Gutete Emerita.

I wrote:

“Given that mass culture is now constantly finding various ways to depict violence and sadism for pleasure, this is pertinent and isnt too far from what I was trying to write about last time. However, the Jaar piece is highly problematic. In fact its far worse than problematic It is introducing the consumption of third world violence, as a subject, as a theme, even if making a rather portentious point about NOT showing the violence. The audience is asked to project their conceits onto the ‘eyes’ of the victim. A black African woman. But first, first the audience is admonished to read a bit of description. Except the description is the U.S. state department version of events. Griselda Pollock asks will you remember her eyes? This is white paternalism, and its additionally puerile and sophistic. Again, positing the savage, the one who saw ONLY murder.{ } Additionally, this artwork of Jaar’s is frought with colonial cliches. It is a fetishizing of Africans as victims, and the use of eyes is reminiscent of much Colonial writing. The eyes of the predator, bloodshot, out of control; the prose of Empire while in the colonies is rife with descriptions of the eyes of the natives. This is almost caricature. These eyes are not like any others because they have seen a special horror. Secondly, there is something deeply sentimentalizing about this. The woman, the mother, helpless, but now (!) assisted by a white artist. A man! Artist as white savoir, who also gets to wring his hands, brimming with white guilt.”

And Paul Landau from is book on Africa colonial photography:

“Toward the end of the 19th century, just as racial ideologues accomodated their thinking to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, photography fully took over the reportorial work of painters like [William Holman] Hunt and began to allow great numbers of urban people to “see” Africans living far away. The invention of the half-tone grid-system put photos in newspapers and books in 1888, and began the “10¢ magazine revolution.” Pictures froze images of “primitive” people who were supposed to be disappearing in the path of the very universalizing and homogenizing forces in which viewers were safely enmeshed. David Livingstone’s instructions to his brother, a photographer, transpose William Holman Hunt’s ideas into the incipient scientific language of the day: he asked Charles Livingstone to “secure characteristic specimens of the various tribes … for the purposes of ethnology.” Unlike “exhibitions,” traveling shows, and museums, photography illustrated Africa primarily by means of iconic signs, not indexical ones; like mobile displays, photography transferred “the location of analysis” back to the comfort of the metropole. Photography greatly increased people “in-the-know”: postcards, magazines, white hunter’s books, illustrated travel stories all yielded their messages in urban living rooms and studies. The trajectory from painting to mechanical reproduction traced the shift from public display to private viewing.”
Paul Landau (Empires of the Visual)

It is stunning that Jacques Ranciere wrote a highly favourable review of the Jaar project. But here one sees how photography shaped the subjectivity of the viewer. (and even today, the US/NATO incited conflict with Russia uses images of Ukraine to establish ‘the real’. Zelenskyy always in fatigue green t shirts and military pants. And rarely has he had ‘time’ to shave. The ‘real’ is a code, the images interchangeable ).

Advertisement for the chocolate drink (cocoa) Banania, beginning 20th century.

“Painters soon used photographs in their studies, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the simpler product of camerawork eclipsed the labors of reportorial painting. Allan Sekula has argued that the photograph was first imagined as a tool for recording possessions. He calls this its “repressive” function. Henry Fox Talbot’s third plate in his pioneering book *The Pencil of Nature* was of “articles of china,” an image that could be produced in court as evidence of ownership. But very soon, Sekula suggests, photography also became a mode of portraiture: its “honorific” function. The unsteady combination of the “repressive” and the “honorific” contributed to the development of photographic arrest records in law enforcement. John Tagg has argued that such a history of photography’s use, rather than any of its intrinsic properties, is what has made photography “realistic.” Thus from police records, the photograph matured in institutions concerned with the establishment of truthful identities: security clearances, medical records, state permits, and the like, often in the service of institutional power.”
Paul Landau (Ibid)

Worth noting, vis a vis ideas of realism, that the liberatory shift to abstraction was a response the institutional hierarchies of *realism*. And the philistine response (anyone could do that) even today, to abstract painting, is highly reactionary. It is the white desire for a return to the ‘comfort of the metropole’ of the mind. The comfort of a familiar subjectivity, of the located white masculine observer. That many women, too, retreat to the white male metropole should be noted.

Anselmo Piccoli

AI is both a smashing of tradition, inherently, in terms of re-arranging the subjective but also a continuation of alienated labour. The mistake is to see Marx and Gramsci and Adorno as somehow not relevant in an analysis of this front edge of change in human thinking. In consciousness itself. In the same way that the meanings of colonial photography were less in the actual content, (a point Landau makes) or in the camera operator, but in the ways these images entered into the system of distribution and structures of interpretation, which were themselves mediated by distrubution (see National Georgraphic photos of the breasts of African or Arab women).

“Whether in the semiotic or evidentiary mode, slavery appears in *Camera Lucida* as supplementary to the photograph—a coincident incident that explains photography by being disappeared.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

In other words, first, looking at the beginnings of photography, the advances were inseparable from colonial practice and capitalism. At each step of change, the change reflexively seen as improvement, naturally enough, the change was stamped by further social/cultural codes. Questions of realism is a whole entire blog post (something that is highly relevant with theatre) and photographic employment by police, as Tagg argues (rightly I think) gave photographs a quality of realism. But also a quality of white supremacism and class judgements. And of masculine sobriety — one can hear Joe Friday….’just the facts’. Realism became factual. Looking at the Raphael painting again, there is no facticity because Renaissance culture did not need such ‘facts’. And the realism of Renaissance painting had nothing to do with reproducing reality. The viewer knows its a painting of the Madonna. The rest is tied into complex mimetic actions that are enclosed within narrative structures. One can argue all images contain narrative, but the experience of most technically made image today is narrative free. The cultures of the West deal ever less with narrative and the fragmented and partial narratives they do use are either ones with false reconciliations or with none at all.

Mehrdad Afsari

AI does not resemble thinking at all. Brain implants will not maximize thinking, or optimize thinking. Computers can process data but like the endless failures of visual recognition systems (by Google and others) they cannot contextualize that data. Machine learning cannot *understand* slavery. So neither, can people. Which is fine for a system bent on erasing its history. But, human thought has started to adjust itself to the computer. Our psychological problems are often the product of extreme instrumental thought, or logic. If we feel guilt, there is increasingly, I think, in those of the West, a tendency to measure (internally) the degree of that guilt, and more, to find and measure potential excuses. Our internal processing more and more employs the logic of badly designed web pages. There is the anticipation of a virtual drop down menu. This sort of hyper instrumental thought deprives the emotions of a means for expression.

“…it is crystal clear that colonialism, and slavery, and the institutionalization and normalization of the practices on which these depended and depend, are part of the conditions by which bodies are first liquidated of subjectivity and reduced to images and signs for others to read. Whether in the slave ship Brookes where people were so cruelly reduced to numbers or in the maquiladoras where, as Lourdes Portillo shows, young women are photographed as targets for rape and femicide, the inscription of body as sign and its treatment as profitably captured cargo merge.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

The last three years has demonstrated unprecedented blindness in Western society. As Christian Parenti wrote…

“For this set {liberals and the laptop left}, Covid vaccines have become a fetish, a talisman to wave against the specter of “contagion”; while lockdowns and censorship are treated as purely technical, apolitical interventions. Prominent left intellectuals have embraced the weaponization of solidarity and made it into a lifestyle via their obsessive masking, scolding, and hiding. They pretend to care for society while actually applauding deeply anti-social and scientifically ungrounded policies like the indefinite shuttering of schools.”
Christian Parenti (How the organized Left got Covid wrong, learned to love lockdowns and lost its mind: an autopsy)

The attention of the academic left/liberal effortlessly turned to the Ukraine conflict. And with the same absolute lack of historical understanding. This is a new machine left, that is, of course, not left at all. AI has been hugely effective at one thing, and that is manufacturing amnesia. Western societies now scan codes on their smart phones or laptop screens, they do not interpret however. Codes are impervious to interpretation. Like the cave painters at Lascoux, there must be a tradition to pass on. Self reflection resembles today, for many, the reading of tables or sets. Impersonal measurements of virtue or risk. And as such, there is nothing to pass on to the next generation.

“The moment that saw the transition from historico-ritual mechanisms for the formation of individuality to the scientifico-disciplinary mechanisms, when the normal took over from the ancestral, and measurement from status, thus substituting for the individuality of the memorable man that of the calculable man, that moment when the sciences of man became possible is the moment when a new technology of power and a new political anatomy of the body were implemented.”
Michel Foucault (Discipline and Punishment)

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  1. George Mc says:

    From the beginning the World Socialist Website has been the single most belligerent shill for covid. They have ceaselessly pumped out fear porn over statistics which they unhesitatingly took for granted. They have also been blaring a triumphalist tale of the restrictions, lockdowns etc. as some kind of triumph for the revolutionary proletariat who imposed these “lifesaving” measures on a reluctant ruling class. And they have been at the forefront of the ones attacking all “covid deniers” by labelling them “Right Wing”. The following is typical:

    The rhetoric is all there:

    “…right-wing media outlets, the rally failed to attract an audience beyond anti-science reactionaries, Christian zealots and far-right pro-Trump elements.”

    And as for “Ignoring the deaths from COVID-19 of over one million Americans, including over 1,000 children in 2021 alone…”, the WSWS were eager to publish the tale of Kali Cook a 6 year old from Galveston who “died of covid” until the autopsy proved that she hadn’t – at which point our brave Trotskyites dropped the story.

    When they started this shit, I submitted a few cautionary comments and, for the first time, found myself talking directly to one of their administrators who tried to convince me that these were indeed the end days. Knowing very well their strict comment rules, I occasionally put in an understated bit of wry rejection until I found myself banned.

    I now have no doubt that they are an intelligence operation.

  2. John Steppling says:

    one of many. BAR is certainly to be suspected of being a psy op, too. Counterpunch is probably just been taken over by not so bright pro-Imperialists. But yes to all the above.

  3. George Mc says:

    I hate to appear ignorant but what is “BAR”?

  4. John Steppling says:

    black agenda report

  5. Regino Robainas says:

    Congratulations on another brilliant
    uncompromising essay. You’re my top choice
    for Ontologist Laureate for the first half of
    this first half of the 21st. century. It
    should become our holy task to create a divine
    garden out of the souless neoliberal lifeless
    desert we have stumbled upon. No theistic
    insurances or atheistic zombiness, but a
    resolute Godding of our eternal yet brief

  6. George Mc says:


    ‘Totalitarianism deprives people of memory and thus retools them into a nation of children. All totalitarianisms do this. And perhaps our entire technical age does this, with its cult of the future, its cult of youth and childhood, its indifference to the past and mistrust of thought.’ – Kundera

    And this:

    “The National Covid Memorial Wall on London’s South Bank is state-sanctioned kitsch. Produced by street-art activists Led by Donkeys, it has been described by The Guardian newspaper — perhaps the most unstinting national advocate of biosecurity programmes, lockdown and ‘vaccine’ mandates and denouncer of protesters as ‘right-wing conspiracy theorists’ — as ‘a memorial to the UK’s largest peacetime mass trauma event in more than a century’.”

  7. John Steppling says:

    thanks. Who is this?

  8. John Steppling says:

    its a very mixed bag. I mean it has great insight and then this weird seemingly blind anti-communism that feels as if the author has no idea what he sounds like in those moments. I like that he sees kitsch as sentimental violence, and its link with what is now called bio security, and that Ukraine is a mirror or continuation of covid, in terms of propaganda. But his history is flawed (I always think these guys need to read adorno and other frankfurters). Its mostly very good, though. I mean very nice dissection of WOKE…..the misogyny of trans-rights hysteria, etc. Its really good. Its just that he I feel the author lacks enough philosophical education to (like Dialectic of Enlightenment, because he is kind of echoing that to a large degree in places) to see the instrumental logic, positivism, as inseparable in a sense from the regression of fascist mythology. But on balance its great and I wish we could all have a round table on this.

  9. Jonathan Barker says:

    In reference to your previous posting wherein you featured the work of Gunther Anthers
    There is an essay re his work on the Aeon website:

  10. John Steppling says:


  11. Regino Robainas says:

    Sometimes I must break prior promises. I do
    not accept being censored by anyone, no matter
    how noble or bright or well intentioned the
    source. Accordingly, I shall not attempt to post
    here any longer. That will be my personal regret.
    But, our sad country has become an intolerable nightmare.
    It is overdue time to take stands.

  12. John Steppling says:

    Im confused regino. What has this to do with posting here?

  13. Regino Robainas says:

    John, from your earlier complaint that
    I should not post any more articles from CP &
    my subsequemt betrayed commitment not to so
    again. There are a few writers I read in
    CP such as Henry Geraux, Ron Jacobs, David
    Yearsly and so forth. I never read the Brit snob
    Sinclair or the Russia/Putin slashers or the
    plague panic pushers. I made the last post with
    anguish- I regard you as my favorite essayist. And, if
    I misrepresented your proscriptive stand and
    irreconcilable prohibition, I gladly retract my

  14. John Steppling says:

    Post whatever you want. I dont censor people. I loathe paul street, I should add. This is the guy who wanted the unvaccinated sent to camps. But i have no issue with people posting what they want. If i actually said that, I must have meant it rhetorically. My apologies.

  15. Regino Robainas says:

    I should be the one to apologize, for
    my paranoia induced misunderunderstanding,
    in the fake Texan’s famous expression.
    As for ps, maybe he has absorbed a
    bit much the ethics of Guantanamo and
    Abu Ghraib. If a radical AI robot would
    have generated the posted article, I
    probably would be half way to the barricades.

    Thanks for your reply.

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